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Sequestration impact on combat aviation: decreased readiness

  • Published
The near and long term effects of sequestration and budget cuts for the military's combat aviation assets was the focus of a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee panel on Capitol Hill April 17.

Two of the Air Force's top experts on combat aviation acquisition and operations, along with their sister services counterparts, provided subcommittee members with updates on the toll sequestration will take on combat readiness for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 and 2014, as well as for the years ahead.

Lt. Gen. Charles R. Davis is the military deputy for the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition who told subcommittee members that the primary Air Force mission requires the ability to strike any place on the planet, while protecting our borders. He stressed that the Air Force's fiscal responsibility covers five core missions: air and space superiority, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), global strike, command and control, and rapid global mobility.

"The impact of sequestration means a reduction in flying hours that will cause harm to units that have had to cease flying operations," said Davis. "That will result in severe and long term combat unit degradation. The loss of Air Force modernization will, over time, cost more taxpayer dollars to rectify by contractor restructures and increase in unit costs and delay in the delivery of capabilities to the warfighter."

Lt. Gen. Burton M. Field is the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, who gave the subcommittee specific repercussions to the effects of sequestration.

"Based upon the fiscal restraints we're facing in fiscal year 2013, we have decided to stop flying 13 combat flying squadrons. These are squadrons that are coded to go out and fight. The reason for the cuts is that we prioritized our commitment to Afghanistan, we took our combatant command requirements against Pacific Air Forces and the Special Operations Command and tried to keep a fully-funded force in Korea. We also support the government of France in Africa and we're looking to maintain our training pipeline for our new and senior aircrews. It's a balancing act and we're trying to prevent an unrecoverable situation in the out years.

"The upshot of that is that we ended up essentially running out of money. That's why we have to stop funding those 13 fighter and bomber squadrons. Some of those squadrons are currently deployed in theater in Afghanistan or somewhere else around the globe, and they'll come back and four of those squadrons will stop flying as soon as they get home."

Field told the Congressional subcommittee that the Air Force, will be in unchartered waters in terms of regaining readiness after we stop flying for six months. "We have never before, in the middle of a fiscal year, stopped flying a third of our combat forces because of a money issue.

We are developing a return to fly program for those affected units, but it will take time, additional resources and a reduced ops tempo to fully recover. The sooner we begin to fly a full training program, the sooner we will recover. But, make no mistake; it will still be an uphill battle."

Davis emphasized to the subcommittee that the effects of reducing aircraft production, limiting depot maintenance, reducing training and closing fighter and bomber squadrons will have an impact far beyond the next fiscal year.

"We'll probably delay the start of the F-16 combat avionics program and enhancement systems program, as we look to see how much money we have to start that, and how quickly we can ramp up to replace the radars on the F-16s. One thing that's very troubling is that we know that some portion of our FY 13 buy of F-35s will be cut. That's about a third of a squadron's modernization that will be pushed off at least for another year. There's spreading effect for all of our programs in terms of modernization."

Davis told the subcommittee that by pushing back modernization and extending legacy aircraft, there stands a greater chance of negative issues during the decade ahead. "We have to address our readiness in 2020. We talk about how many fighters should be on the ramp right now and how many tankers should be on the ramp right now. But there is a cost to keeping those legacy aircraft afloat. In 10 years, we'll be using the same aircraft that becomes 10 years older, so we're going to have to take some risk between now and 10 years from now in terms of how ready we are for today's fight versus how ready will we be for tomorrow's fight."

In his closing remarks, Field said, "The greatest challenge will be to find a balance between minimizing the impact on readiness and preserving investment dollars for modernization and recapitalization of our fighter and bomber fleets and preferred munitions inventories."